A view of the Capitol City Bikeway, flanked by leafy trees.

Speak Up About the Capital City’s Bike Plan

The St. Paul City Council will hear a staff report and public comment this Wednesday, April 17 about the city’s Bicycle Plan, an extensive update from 2015. The meeting, which starts at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall in downtown St. Paul, likely will echo the public testimony and rousing support that the St. Paul Planning Commission heard in early February.

But opponents will turn out, too, as they have for other bike initiatives that threaten parking and reset roadways to consider the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

Among highlights of the updated plan:

  • Public Works will consider multimodal transportation, not just the condition of the road, when assessing the need for street reconstruction (page 6).
  • Safety and equity are prioritized, with acknowledgement that 13% of St. Paul homes have no access to a vehicle, 40% have just one vehicle and “safe and comfortable alternatives to driving” are going to be needed as the city’s population grows (page 22).
  • Referencing a 2006 study from Portland, Oregon, that identified four types of cyclists, the St. Paul plan aims to attract the 60% who are “interested but concerned,” people who would like to bike but feel uncomfortable pursuing it as either recreation or transportation (page 26).
Senior Transportation Planner Jimmy Shoemaker will present the updated Bicycle Plan to the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday, April 17. He wrote about the plan in Streets.mn in July 2023. Photo: Wolfie Browender

The full 100-page plan, which would be a doorstop if printed, is available here; it will take a few minutes to download.

Prepare to testify: Show up in person at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday; there’s no need to register in advance. Submit comments by noon on Tuesday, April 16 via email (Contact-Council@ci.stpaul.mn.us) or voicemail (651-266-6805). If you can’t get to City Hall and want to testify live via telephone, register by noon Tuesday on the St. Paul City Council website.

Cost, Parking Lead Concerns

Opponents of safer, more equitable, more climate-friendly bike infrastructure packed the City Council hearing in May 2023 about the Summit Avenue Regional Trail — wearing green, “for the trees.”

But advocates for the updated Bicycle Plan dominated the Planning Commission meeting on February 2, and most of them walked, biked or took mass transit to City Hall. (How do I know? Because I asked during my own public testimony, wearing bicycle earrings.)

Praise for a policy document that features a connected bike network throughout the city (page 32), that prioritizes separated bikeways (page 42) and that emphasizes supportive resources such as bike parking (page 70) and Safe Routes to School (page 76) is expected in Streets.mn. Let’s begin instead with the handful of people who argued against the plan before the Planning Commission in February.

SOS members hold up NOT TRUE signs at public meeting
Opponents of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan, which the Metropolitan Council approved in October, let their signage do the talking at a meeting in February 2023. Photo: Ed Steinhauer

SARPA President Tom Darling said he opposes the St. Paul Bicycle Plan because the city has been unclear about its cost. SARPA is the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association, founded in 1986 to “serve as a ‘watchdog’ for the Avenue” and preserve its historic integrity. The group is bruised from losing its battle against the Summit Avenue trail, which SARPA and SOS (Save Summit Avenue) continue to try to hold up in court. Darling urged commissioners to “insist that the city send a notice to each property” on streets throughout the city “where separated bike lanes will be.”

He also asked how many parking spaces will be eliminated to create off-road bikeways, which most cycling data experts consider safer for children, the elderly and the everyday rider. Likewise, a longtime resident of St. Clair Avenue, an east-west throughway in St. Paul, said he opposes the plan because “we need the parking.”

“Hats off to the people who want to bike year-round, but I don’t,” said attorney, volunteer and recent Ward 3 City Council candidate Patty Hartmann, who declared the plan to be “impractical” and “lacking in common sense.”

Proponents Speak Out

Biking is affordable and helps fight climate change, the updated Bicycle Plan declares (page 22). So it seemed appropriate that Joshua Houdek, senior program manager of land use and transportation at the Sierra Club Northstar Chapter, would kick off the hour or so of testimony.

Houdek noted that the temperature had been hovering in the 40s and 50s — in Minnesota, in January and February. “The only snow is what’s coming out of machines,” he said. “We are in a climate crisis, and SUVs, cars and trucks that keep getting bigger are part of the problem.” The transportation sector accounts for one-third of pollution, he said, urging people to “convert shorter trips, under 3 miles, to bicycle,” which the updated Bicycle Plan, when fully implemented, could help them do.

“I don’t want to share the road because I don’t want to get hit by a car,” said Owen Young, who lives in Minneapolis. He praised the bikeways in downtown St. Paul but rarely gets there because of the “barren” biking in adjoining neighborhoods. “The disconnected network makes it difficult for people to see biking as a legitimate form of transportation,” Young said.

One woman who described herself as a cyclist, and said she raised her children to be cyclists, too, praised the Bicycle Plan for prioritizing the safety of walkers. “I feel the cyclists are well supported here today,” she said. “I want to speak as a pedestrian.”

Transportation activist Mary Morse Marti and Sustain Saint Paul co-chair Melissa Wenzel, both e-bike enthusiasts, made strong arguments for future generations. Calling the Bicycle Plan “forwarding looking and inclusive,” Morse Marti said the infrastructure changes will help people age in St. Paul and create “a climate that our children and grandchildren can thrive in.”

A former East Side resident who now lives near West Seventh Street, Wenzel said she’s been “actively listening” to those who feel unsafe cycling in the street. “I support dedicated separated bike lanes for the elders, for the kids,” she said. “For everyone.”

Amy Gage

About Amy Gage

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Amy Gage is managing editor of Streets.mn. A former journalist, she writes a blog about women and aging (themiddlestages.com) and contributes to the Minnesota Women's Press.